There’s no easy way to say this but if you’re a fan of Shtisel and hate spoilers turn the page now.
On the other hand, to pass up the opportunity to meet and learn about the newest star of the popular Israeli drama would be foolhardy, because Daniella Kertesz is an astute and prepossessing performer with the tranquil beauty of a classical artist’s muse.
Poised and balletic, her contemplative countenance belongs on a canvas, which couldn’t be more perfect as her role in Shtisel is that of art dealer Racheli Warburg.
This is no big reveal, as Daniella gave a fulsome description of the character in Yes TV promos, but it was in Ivrit, so non-Hebrew speakers were left in the dark – which is how Shtisel purists prefer it. But things are different now. Perfectly timed to coincide with Passover, season 3 has at last appeared in the way prophet Elijah never has, and is available to view (from tonight) on Netflix.
Excited enough to message me: “Can you believe the timing!” – Daniella is ready to talk about a new woman in Akiva’s life. But is it her? “I can tell you the costume ladies were so excited to have a new Shtisel character. They told me: ‘We can put you in so many colours to make you stand out,’ and this helped to shape Racheli visually.”
Daniella didn’t hesitate when she got the call for Shtisel as she already knew its creators, Ori Elon and Yehonatan Indursky, from starring in their mini–series, Autonomies.
“I know how they write so precisely and sensitively and how that translates into an experience for a performer,” says Daniella, who was cast as the dystopian drama’s sexy jazz saxophonist seduced by Assi Cohen’s strictly-Orthodox smuggler. As the definitive example of socially-distanced entertainment, Shtisel doesn’t do love scenes, as touching is not allowed. But turning the heads of fictitious Chasidim appears to be a pattern for this Jerusalem-born actor.
“I can control it though,” insists Daniella, who is of Belgian and Hungarian origin. “I did call my girlfriends when I was cast opposite Assi Cohen because we used to watch him as teenagers in the Israeli TV series Love Hurts. He was our dream guy and I think I told him as I said it was so good to meet him.”
She was equally glad to meet the fans’ favourite Michael Aloni over Zoom.
“He’s charming, but it was weird, because I was in Los Angeles and he was in Israel, but we had to act as if we were in the same room as we normally would have been. So I said: ‘Here’s my pen’ and on screen he pretended to take it and said: ‘Thank you.’”
Daniella always considered LA a clichéd destination for an actor – “very against my character”, but with a resumé that includes fighting post-apocalyptic zombies with Brad Pitt in World War Z, she is a name, and her role in Yaron Zilberman’s Incitement took her to the City of Angels to promote it.
“My boyfriend, who is a video artist, was also studying at UCLA, so I did some auditions and learnt about behind the scenes of the art world. I believe roles catch you when you’re ready for them, so my head was in the right place to play an art dealer.”
In Shtisel, Racheli is quick to spot the talent in self-effacing artist Akiva, but researching the role was disquieting for Daniella.
“My character buys art for the family estate and is religious. Women in the religious communities have babies, run the home and might even teach art, but they usually deal in art behind the scenes because it’s ‘men’s work’. Racheli is also single at the age of 30, which is really rare in their community and this raises questions.”
Daniella really doesn’t want to give too much away, but Shtisel season three is more resolute than before as it introduces plotlines around infertility and, in the case of Racheli, mental health, which is a contentious theme for a drama set in Mea She’arim.
“Researching this role for a secular show would have been easier because everyone’s seeing a shrink and taking antidepressants,” says Daniella. “But I couldn’t find many religious people to talk to me about mental illness because it’s such a secret.
“When I posed a question to a religious girl about the fate of someone with such issues, she told me she would not be friends with them and they would not find a shidduch. It would be a big stain on the family. Then I asked her what help was available and she said there are no therapists and no one talks about it.”
Of course, any subject is up for debate on social media, and Daniella’s opinion on bipolar disorder in the Orthodox world met with robust denials.
“Some said they didn’t agree that mental health within Orthodoxy is so taboo. Now I understand why people are protective, but I did my research and that’s what I found.I also built this character from a very specific point of view and didn’t want to make her a victim. I want the audience to find the empathy I did to play her and love her as I do. ”
Daniella isn’t a fan of social media, doesn’t take selfies and was pushed reluctantly on to Instagram by her friends. This may change now she’s in Shtisel as it provokes endless character discussions on Facebook and, through lockdown, fans continued to surmise about Akiva Shtisel’s future and posted amazing portraits of him. So will they soon be sketching Racheli by his side?
“She is there from episode two until the end and I can’t say more than that. Really I can’t. I will say working with Ori and Yehonatan again was like playing the music of a composer you know and thinking: ‘I’m this music, I can play this part.’”
Whether she is the ‘one’ you can discover from tonight but don’t tell anyone.
- Shtisel season 3 is available to watch from tonight
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